On Red Lipstick in a Mosque

Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.

Several years ago, I was working with a group of Muslim teenagers in Atlanta, GA. While visiting their mosque on the north side of town one Friday I met the girls in the ladies powder room to ensure that I was properly covered and that my hijab was pinned in all the right places. As we got ready to make our way into the prayer hall, one of the girls pulled out a tube of bright red lipstick. As she quickly smeared it on her lips, one of the other girls said coyly, “Your mother is going to be furious!” The girl with the lipstick turned to her friend, smiled deviously and said, “I know. But she can’t say anything to me during prayer.”

Teenagers, if you’ve ever had them or worked with them, have made rebellion into an art. It’s in their nature. It takes on all kinds of forms. As a teenager, I often came home with hot pink hair. All my mother could ever do was to say something to the effect of, “Why do you do this to me?” She took it well. Teenage rebellion is as natural as learning to walk or ride a bike. Every teenager does it. It’s a step into the world. Stepping into the world as individuals was not as easy for these rebellious Muslim girls as it was for me, even 10+ years after my own rebellious days.

For them, wearing red lipstick during Friday prayer was their way to show their mothers’ that they could make decisions that their mothers could do little about in the public arena of their mosque. Unfortunately, these same girls also knew that, for them, they had to restrain their rebellion to inside safe walls, not outside in the wider world of the South. As Muslims, they were required to fit into the stereotypes that the world around them had set out for them. They had to be, as one of them explained it, “the model Muslims.” They had to wear their clothes a specific way but not too “Muslim,” and never speak their native tongues to one another outside of their religious communities for fear of persecution. As much as they wanted and needed to rebel, they were daily reminded that being religiously different in their wider communities was a bad thing.

For me, to be religiously or ethically different from someone else should and always has been a good thing. It means that someone else will have an opinion that is unique and different than mine. Being committed to building relationships with those who are different than I am means that the story will become richer with more voices bringing different points of views. It means that I or someone else will learn something new or see something in a new light. It means that, for me, I am living out my calling as a Christian to love my neighbor as myself, no matter what my neighbor believes.

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